Poetry of News

There is a certain poetry to newswriting that’s not readily apparent to its readers — and perhaps not even to its practitioners.

This derives in large part, I think, from the absurdity inherent in exchanging six to eight hours a day for six to eight hundred words a story which will be forgotten by next week.

It’s the game of Reality Creation, newsriting is. My job is to tell you what happened in a place you didn’t see. Though I labor to get it right (literally, with sweat and grunting and everything), my account is necessarily incomplete and should be taken with a grain of salt. (As should everyone else’s, of course: including yours.)

This is, to me, a Most Sacred Game. There is adrenaline and drudgery and laughter, an unspoken trust, the agonies of ignorance and the illusion of omniscience. The greatest challenge is in sifting through my immediate experience to share the highlights. So much gets left on the cutting room floor:

  • The moment of communicating to a bystander/potential interviewee that you know that they know It’s That Situation — and that since it’s obvious let’s see what happens.
  • Standing in front of a crime-scene house. A shotgun murder occurred in the back of the house, and all I could see of the crime scene were the eyes and faces of the four deputies in the backyard.
  • The wave of relieved wonder (and cooing) that rolls through a group of humans who’ve waited two tense hours to see the mountain lion finally sedated — and healthy.
  • The satisfaction of flashing a press pass and continuing on unimpeded.
  • The vocal nuances peculiar to those first learning what one does for a living.
  • Two other nuances: those who suddenly find themselves “on the record” and those who, gratefully, do not.
  • Yet another: those whose unwilling investment in the bank of public notice has paid unwelcome returns.
  • The unrelenting and inescapable terror of Getting It Wrong — or worse, not being aware enough to Get It Right In The First Place.

There is no other buzz quite like it. I heartily recommend it to everyone — and most especially, its detractors.

“As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”
— H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Sun, 1953

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